Army cautious about OS policy deadline

The Army's chief information officer confirmed last month that the service might miss its Dec. 31 deadline for updating all desktop computers with the latest version of Microsoft Corp. Windows.

Lt. Gen. Steve Boutelle, the Army's CIO, said he is satisfied with progress toward converting computers to the Windows 2000 operating system, Active Directory and Exchange 2003 messaging system at Army installations outside the United States. But he said he is concerned about meeting the year-end goal at domestic commands.

Boutelle said the service's streamlined information technology command structures and facilities abroad lend themselves to a more efficient upgrade process than the decentralized ones here.

Boutelle discussed the subject during an Oct. 26 media briefing in Washington, D.C., at the Association of the U.S. Army's 2004 Annual Meeting and Exposition.

The Army operates 507,000 computers, 375,000 nationwide and 132,000 abroad.

Boutelle signed a directive Feb. 4 to phase out Windows NT 4.0 because of security concerns and because Microsoft will stop supporting it Dec. 31. The directive also retires the Windows X and Millennium Edition operating systems.

Boutelle announced in September that the Army still uses Windows 3.1, 95, 98 and NT 4.0. He said running one operating system servicewide will keep costs down and let IT officials manage software updates and patches more efficiently.

Boutelle's statement echoes comments that Maj. Earl Robinson, the Army's assistant product manager for the Active Directory and Exchange 2003 program, made in August. Robinson said officials were planning for the possibility that some computers might not be converted because of infrastructure, staffing and training problems.

Army IT officials could move those computers onto a separate network until they are converted, but officials remain hopeful they will meet the deadline, Robinson said.

He led the effort to update all computers at the 8th U.S. Army on the Korean peninsula, and he issued tips in August on how to manage the process. Army and industry IT officials updated 23,000 PCs there to Active Directory and Exchange 2003 this past spring using products from Quest Software Inc.

"This is the only warfighting installation completely converted to Windows 2000, Active Directory and Exchange 2003," Robinson said.

Army officials decided to update that unit's machines first because North and South Korea technically remain at war and because of computer security concerns in Asia.

Robinson described the more than yearlong project there as a success based on planning, communication, execution and testing. "If you don't have installation commanders on board, you're setting yourself up for failure," he said.

Earlier this year, Army and IT industry officials also upgraded more than 40,000 computers to Active Directory and Exchange 2003 at Army Medical Command by purchasing a license for 65,000 seats from Quest Software.

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